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In Through the Cat Door
Kostas “Gus” Hais and his band Blackcat Elliot are living proof that one can definitely learn (and grow) through mistakes
By Bill Ketzer

Kostas “Gus” Hais believes in the providence of mistakes. After a dozen false starts and twice as many drummers during the tumultuous history of local Piels-in-a can rockers North Again, he decided to shelve his lifework in favor of home recording and working his day job as graphic designer. Then the phone call came, out of nowhere.

“This old friend of mine began calling me and saying, ‘Hey man let’s get together, I’m playing drums now with this great bass player,’ ” Hais recalls. “He never picked up a drumstick in his life. I was like, ‘Yeah right,’ but he wouldn’t stop calling me.”

That old friend was drummer/professional cigarette smoker Mark Klein, who had been clocking in long hours with bassist and experimental-music man Steve Gregory. Both were looking for a project with bite after their outfit the Have-Nots fell through.

Cattin’ around: Hais (center) with the other Blackcat Elliot members, Klein (l) and Gregory (r). Photo: Joe Putrock

“North Again used to rehearse at old 88 Consaul, this keg house where I lived with, like, 12 other guys, and I would drink beers and listen to [longtime NA drummer] Rob Wheeler,” Klein explains. “Soon I was sitting behind his kit, pissing people off with my racket. That’s basically how I learned to play, from watching my friends do it, not from listening to records.”

“This whole band was a mistake,” Hais says, referring to Blackcat Elliot, for whom he serves as singer-guitarist. “I never intended to go through with it again. All of a sudden, there’s Mark and Steve. Before long we had a set. We had gigs. Then we were in the studio again, laying down tracks. It’s crazy, it’s like a disease.”

“The CD was a mistake too,” says Klein. “We were just looking for a place to record a demo so we could get some gigs and stuff, but when we finished up the demo, [Scarlet East Studio’s] John Delehanty convinced us to lay down five more at his new place after he relocated. All of a sudden, we had an album.”

The result, titled Threads Tearing From the Inside, was recorded completely live, and marks the first full-length recording from Hais in over five years. He says that while his focus has recently been more on the actual structural development of the music, Blackcat Elliot keep their roots in the thrill of hard luck, the poesy of heartache, written solely from personal experience.

“Some of the songs are rather hard to discuss,” he says quietly, eyeballing the floor. “I lost my sister recently, so ‘In Place of You’ is for her. But basically the songs are about love, in one way or another. Love disguised as cool stuff.”

Lyrically, Hais continues to write against the traditional iambic pentameter found on many a sappy Hallmark card, preferring the rhyme to occur internally in the verse, giving the rhythm a more perpetual dynamic.

“I actually sit and really read each word and make sure it means something to me, and I’m always aware of the other contexts, too,” he says. “So there’s that and then the other writing, the Web site, the promotional stuff. We’re always out there, trying to get heard.”

Local radio has taken notice: WEQX (102.7 FM), 103.1 FM and UAlbany’s infamous WCDB (90.9 FM) each have the new BCE in rotation, the latter recently awarding the band “Artist of the Month” status. The trio also have been giving the new material a serious statewide litmus test, doing guerrilla-style jaunts to New York City and all points north and west to spread the word, drink cold beers with new fans and bust out of the proverbial everyday cage.

“Even if the gig is free, or if it’s four hours away, we’re good to just plug in and go, even if the venue sucks, the crowd sucks or the beer sucks,” says Gregory. “A bad gig is always better than a good day at work.”

So much for mistakes, eh?

“It feels like it’s the only thing I’ve ever done that makes me happy,” Hais says. “It’s the first thing I think about when I get up in the morning.”

Blackcat Elliot will host their CD-release party at Valentine’s (17 New Scotland Ave., Albany), with Rob Skane and the Extras, on Friday (June 20). Admission for the 9 PM show is $8 and includes a free CD. For more information, call 432-6572.

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